A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Fantasy meant to entertain. Adult readers can talk to kids about why stereotypes are harmful.
Zoos can be fun -- the stranger the creatures, the better. Presents racist and great-White-hunter stereotypes.
Positive Role Models
Presents racist and great-White-hunter stereotypes in the illustrations of a desert "chieftain" with billowy pants, turban, and long, curved sword; "Persian princes"; barefoot, bare-chested African men with topknots and wearing grass skirts; and Asian men in tunics and wooden sandals.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Dr. Seuss' If I Ran the Zoo won a Caldecott Honor. Main character and narrator Gerald McGrew imagines all the fantastic beasts he'd find in his travels around the world, which he'd then put in a very different kind of zoo. However, the book, which was first published in 1950, features racist and great-White-hunter stereotypes and insensitive imagery, including an illustration of two barefoot, bare-chested Africans wearing grass skirts and large nose rings, and three Asian men with long, stringy mustaches and wearing tunics and wooden sandals. The men are carrying an exotic beast in a large cage balanced on their heads, and atop the cage is the young White narrator, Gerald, with a rifle. There are also stereotypical portrayals of Middle Eastern characters, including "Persian princes" and a desert "chieftain" riding a beast called a Mulligatawny. Gerald says, "A Mulligatawny is fine for my zoo / And so is a chieftain. I'll bring one back, too," equating a person from another culture and an exotic animal.
Is It Any Good?
This Seuss book is a joyride of verse and ridiculous creatures that has some problematic images among the fanciful illustrations. Here is life lived as a fantastical experience, lit by an imagination that shimmers and bursts like fireworks. Though the animals are pure figments, Seuss transports readers into the adventure with Gerald McGrew as he globetrots in search of the best wild animals. Unfortunately, some of the people Gerald sees in faraway places are presented as racist stereotypes, including "Persian princes" wearing billowy pants and turbans; two barefoot, shirtless African men with top knots and wearing large nose rings and grass skirts; and three Asian men wearing tunics and wooden sandals.
Seuss stumbles as he dishes up some shocking verbally and visually racist commentary: "I'll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant / With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant," or the Indian chieftains whom Gerald will display along with the "scraggle-footed Mulligatawny," or the African porters. Now is as good a time as any to have a discussion about how stereotypes can be hurtful.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.